Ian Keatley hopes derby ‘bite’ will tempt fans to Thomond Park

Munster are hoping for Thomond Park’s biggest crowd of the season in Friday’s Guinness Pro 12 clash with Ulster (6pm) Just over 5,000 turned up for a repeat of last year’s final with Glasgow and the atmosphere was well short of what one expects when top teams meet at the iconic venue.

But with the World Cup winding down, Munster out-half Ian Keatley hopes the fans will flock to Limerick - and be rewarded with a super spectacle.

“Obviously the World Cup is a world event so of course the PRO12 is going to take a back seat. But I think with the European games coming up soon and the internationals returning, the intensity and the thrills are going to start coming back into these games.”

When it was suggested that a low-key atmosphere was affecting players’ level of performance, Keatley quickly dismissed the notion: “I wouldn’t say that to Axel! We need to try to build our own atmosphere and make sure we’re putting our best foot forward for games coming up because when the internationals come back you don’t want them raising the bar – instead, you want to set the standard for them which is what we are trying to do.”

Keatley, who has fallen behind not just Jonathan Sexton but also Ian Madigan and Paddy Jackson in the out-half pecking order with Ireland, lamented Munster’s failure to cling on for a record equalling fifth successive win at the Scarlets on Friday although he and the squad are taking more positives than negatives from that game.

“I thought we did a lot of good things”, he insisted. “We played the ball in the right areas, defended well and then unfortunately right at the end gave away those two silly penalties that cost us the match. I got five penalty kicks from seven, one of them was a hit and hope because it was from distance but I thought it might have put a bit of daylight between us. I’m happy with the way my kicking is going. I’ve worked hard to redo my routine.

“Derby games are a special. They’re always good for the crowd and I think there’s an extra bite in these games. I’m looking forward to getting out there again. I feel like I’m playing well and I’m enjoying my rugby which is the main thing.

“Ulster’s style and the way they play is kind of catered for whichever out-half plays. Peter Nelson’s been doing a good job while Paddy Jackson was away. They’re a very good team, they’ve got a lot of flexibility and variety in their game and they got us with one or two plays when we played them up in Ravenhill last year.

“So we’ll be looking out for those trick plays and making sure we’re on the ball for Friday night.”

Keatley obviously carries a great deal of responsibility every time he tees up the ball, only too well aware that so many games nowadays are so close and accordingly are often decided by a successful penalty: “Conditions play a big part in it as well”, he pointed out.

hopes derby bite “You could see in the South Africa New Zealand game. I thought skill wise the All Blacks were a bit better but the conditions made it a level playing field. I thought we played the conditions better against Scarlets at the weekend but their kicker Shingler got a great kick at the end to win it for them.” Meanwhile former Munster star Jean de Villiers may face his old team in December, after the 34-year-old inked a deal with Leicester Tigers.

The South African centre will join the Premiership side on December and could feature in the Champions Cup double-header against Anthony Foley’s men before Christmas.

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